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Friday, 28 November 1986
Page: 3009


Senator CHANEY —I preface my question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate by reminding him that, like everyone else in this place, he has sat through Question Time-indeed, many Question Times-during which the Minister for Finance has berated and abused people who, he alleges, have either evaded or avoided their taxation obligations.


Senator Walsh —Like your mate Horgan.


Senator CHANEY —There he is at it again. He is very good at having shots at people--


The PRESIDENT —Order! The honourable senator will ask his question.


Senator CHANEY —Mr President, I do not like being called into line when I am asking a question about tax evasion and a Minister throws in the names of people who have been guilty of no more than tax avoidance. There is a very substantial difference which the Minister knows about.

Government senators interjecting-


The PRESIDENT —Order! I ask the Leader of the Opposition to ask his question. I ask him to start again.


Senator CHANEY —Certainly, Mr President. I preface my question by reminding the Minister that, like everyone else in this place, he has sat through Question Time after Question Time during which the Minister for Finance has berated and abused people, including people who have done no more than act on legal advice on what are called tax avoidance procedures but who, he alleges, have either evaded or avoided their taxation obligations. Does the Minister agree that the Treasurer, the man responsible to Parliament for the Australian taxation system, should set an example to the public by ensuring that his own personal taxation affairs are entirely beyond reproach? Does he further agree that the Treasurer's failure to lodge his 1984-85 income tax return until just recently and his failure to lodge this year's return is in breach of the standards the public is entitled to expect and, in fact, constitutes tax evasion? Will the Prime Minister be asking the Treasurer to resign because of this totally unacceptable behaviour and, if not, why not?


Senator Walsh —Mr President, I take a point of order. A completely false allegation has just been made by the Leader of the Opposition.

Opposition senators interjecting-


The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Walsh is taking a point of order and he will be heard in silence.


Senator Walsh —The Treasurer stated in the Parliament yesterday that he expected to receive a taxation refund.


The PRESIDENT —Order! There is no point of order.


Senator BUTTON —Senator Chaney's question attempts to link a number of things which are incapable of being linked, either in logic or in honesty.

Honourable senators interjecting-


The PRESIDENT —Order! I warn honour- able senators that if these interjections continue I will have to take appropriate action.


Senator BUTTON —I might just explain what I perceive to be the point of Senator Chaney's question, which is to refer to tax evasion and avoidance, of which nobody in this Government approves, and to try to connect that with the Treasurer's delay in lodging a tax return by the due date. I simply say that the fact that the Treasurer failed to lodge his tax return by the due date is regrettable, as it is with any other taxpayer who fails to do that. But there is no question of personal gain or loss.


Senator Chaney —How do you know? Prove it.


Senator BUTTON —I am asserting it. It is not my task to prove it in answer to interjections in the Senate.


Senator Durack —It is.


Senator BUTTON —I thought the honourable senator would have been very quiet-having sat for six years on that file in the bottom drawer of his desk-instead of coming in here and making all that noise. The fact of the matter is, as I say, that what the Treasurer has done is regrettable, as it would be in the case of any ordinary taxpayer, and in respect of that the Treasurer will be treated in exactly the same way as any ordinary taxpayer.


Senator CHANEY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The Minister indicates that the Treasurer is going to be treated the same as any other taxpayer and I hope that means that he is going to be subject to penalty. But I ask the Minister to address the question I put to him: Will the Prime Minister be asking the Treasurer to resign because of this totally unacceptable behaviour and, if not, why not?


Senator BUTTON —The answer to that question is no. The reason for the answer to that question being no is that this Government accepts the need for high standards in respect of ministerial behaviour. An example of that is the introduction of declarations of pecuniary interests by members of parliament-something which the Opposition never did and is totally opposed to. We expect that. There is no question of impropriety in respect of what the Treasurer has done. There is a neglect to file a tax return by the due date and that, as I said in my answer to the first part of the question, is regrettable, as it is with any taxpayer who does that.